Hair care experts have been telling us for ages how moisture is one of the most important factors for healthy, shiny hair. But then, a little while ago, terms like “over-moisturizing” and “hygral fatigue” started making the rounds. And it became clear, that there IS, in fact, such a thing as too much moisture.

But what exactly is this hygral fatigue, how do we know if we have it, and, most importantly, what can we do about it? Let’s look at some answers below!

Disclosure: Some of the links below are so-called provision links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

What is hygral fatigue?

Hygral fatigue is kind of what it sounds like: it is your hair getting tired. From getting wet and then dry, and then wet and then dry again. This endless cycle of wetting and drying causes damage to the hair cuticle.

Image of a woman taking a bath, getting her hair wet, presumably causing hygral fatigue
Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels

In other words, this phenomenon is caused by too much moisture entering and exiting the hair cuticle. This is not something that happens with one wash or when using the wrong conditioner. It happens over time, damaging the hair little by little every time it gets wet and then dries.

How do you know if you have hygral fatigue?

To understand if you have hygral fatigue, you first need to understand the difference between over-moisturizing and hygral fatigue. They both look the same, but they happen at different speeds.

If you have hair, you wash it regularly, and you let it grow, it will develop hygral fatigue. There’s no way around it. It takes a long time to really develop though. This is why the length of your hair will look “old” when your hair gets really long.

Moisture overload, on the other hand, happens really quickly. See, when hair absorbs moisture (as in, it gets wet), it becomes more porous, because the cuticles stand up. Already porous hair becomes extremely porous, meaning it can absorb way more than usual. This can lead to moisture overload literally overnight.

Over-Moisturising happens, for example, when you deep condition every night for a week straight. This basically doesn’t allow your hair cuticle to close, ever, forcing more and more moisture in.

Image of a deep conditioner from Shea Moisture
A good deep conditioner* – just don’t use it too much!

As I said above, the symptoms of hygral fatigue and moisture overload will look the same, so how quickly your hair changed into this state will help you decide which of the two issues you have.

Signs of hygral fatigue & moisture overload

  • gummy hair when it’s wet
  • hair feels limp and weak
  • if you had structured hair before (ie curly), that structure is gone or significantly weakened

How to fix hygral fatigue

Let’s start with the bad news first, just to get it out of the way: just like split ends, you cannot repair hygral fatigue. It is permanent damage to the cell membrane complex of your hair, and unfortunately, not reversible.

The good news though, is, that you can do lots of things to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Preventing hygral fatigue & over-moisturizing your hair

Now we finally get to the actionable tips! What can you really do to prevent all of this?

As every time your hair gets wet and then dries again leads to eventual hygral fatigue, the first course of action is to simply not get it wet so often. This means

  1. Not washing it so often. Obviously! Test new ways to deal with a greasy scalp!
  2. Not constantly “refreshing” your hair with moisturising products in between washes. This will mean finding hairstyles that work with not-freshly-washed hair and optimising your hair washing routine to allow for nice hair in between washes.

Don’t keep your hair wet

Image of a smiling woman wearing a grey microfiber hair towel turban

Another way to minimize the damage to your cell membrane complex when washing your hair is to speed up the drying time. This study found that the longer it takes for your hair to dry, the bigger the damage.

Don’t worry, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use heat on your hair! (After all, that would make it more porous, which, in turn, would make it more susceptible to hygral fatigue…) Instead, try some of these ways to dry your hair without heat!

Protein

Your hair porosity determines how prone your hair is to hygral fatigue and over-moisturizing. The higher your porosity, the bigger the danger of damaging your cuticle by over-moisturizing it.

Unfortunately, as people with highly porous hair often also have very dry hair, they tend to use lots of deep conditioning treatments to add moisture. This, again, makes matters worse. It’s a vicious cycle.

To help prevent this, use protein treatments. Ideally, use them before washing your hair, as a pre-poo treatment, and then apply a protein leave-in after washing.

Coconut oil

A great way to help with protein retention and preventing hygral fatigue is coconut oil. Studies show that it prevents loss of protein from your hair and also limits swelling if applied before wetting the hair. And that swelling of the cuticle is what’s causing hygral fatigue! Just two of the many benefits of coconut oil for hair!

Related: Coconut oil for hair: the real benefits

Cut it off

Lastly, if your length have suffered greatly from hygral fatigue, there is no other way but to cut it off. This is definitely not the first action to take, but once you’ve tried everything else for a while and your hair is still gummy, lifeless and simply won’t behave like hair anymore, it’s time to get rid of the damaged parts.

Have you experienced hygral fatigue?

Let me know, share this with someone and make sure to pin this to your hair care board on Pinterest!

*These links are so-called provision links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.